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Creating Urban Area Studies

While the intelligence aspects of preparedness are not as engaging as training on the range or gear selection, it is vital that you set aside some time to analyze your local area. The situations that require you to have completed an area study are typically accompanied by electrical and network interruptions making the intel gathering stages of this exercise significantly more difficult; meaning it is much easier to prepare these studies now than to procrastinate and lose the resources needed to conduct them in a real world situation.

Area studies serve as a crucial tool in tactical military planning, once completed they provide an in-depth analysis of a location's physical terrain, infrastructure, and human elements. This complete analysis is then used to drive the planning and considerations of any tactical actions within the area. An area study forms part of the IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace) process, however, today we will look at the area study on its own.


To build a well-rounded understanding of the area study process we will look at analyzing an area’s terrain, infrastructure, and routes. We will also look at the more broad side of military, police, and civilian analysis using the ASCOPE and PMESII methods.

Local and Wide Area Studies

First, let's talk about scale. Area studies can range rather dramatically in size, typically the size of the area you are analyzing will affect the detail of the study. Conducting an analysis on a small property may lead you to including details that are so small you will feel like you are building a 360° range card; you may include individual trees or potential firing positions as ‘Key Terrain’ depending on how small scale your area is. On the other side of the spectrum, wide area studies of whole cities or large ranch properties must pull back their level of detail for the sake of timeliness and practicality. In short, if your scope is too large you will miss necessary small details, alternatively, if your scope is too small you will be restricting your perspective and ability to plan.

You may think this is a plea for a modest middle answer, it is not. In reality, the best solution is to conduct multiple area studies at different scopes. Ideally at these levels:

  1. Home and property.

At this level you give yourself the most clarity and may include details as small as depressions in the ground that may obscure an attacker or the composition and thickness of walls.

  1. Adjacent properties, ideally in a radius outwards of your home that can reasonably be patrolled out and back in one day.

At this level you give yourself a realistic perspective of your property, the routes and avenues of approach around it, and all at a scope that keeps a reasonable amount of detail as it pertains to defensive considerations.

  1. City wide.

With a city wide analysis your main goal should focus on the civilian population and infrastructure. Typically city wide analyses are done as a means to determine what key infrastructure needs defense, safest routes around and through, high traffic/no-go areas, and places to source equipment and supplies; though there are many other reasons, for instance, a sniper may want to catalog the height and fields of fire from the buildings of the city.

Once you have chosen the scales and areas you want to study, we can get to work.

Analyzing the Terrain and Environment

Terrain analysis can take some time depending on the level of detail you plan on including. Luckily, if you are conducting your analysis pre-emptively you have some time to familiarize yourself with your property and local area. Most area analyses employ a mobility, terrain, and weather split.

We will break down these points individually while plotting them on our own map so you can follow along.


Primary Roads: Any sealed road that leads to a highway or has frequent traffic.

Main Supply Routes: Roads that see frequent utility transport vehicles (Highways).

Secondary Roads: All other low traffic roads.

Major Intersections: Where Primary Roads meet.

Paths: Can include goat trails, accessible alleyways, fire trails, and other very low traffic unsealed paths.

Off Road Mobility Corridors: Any open terrain where wheeled or tracked vehicles can be supported by the soil.

Bridges: Manmade bridges and their supported weight

Water Crossings: Natural locations where a river is shallow enough to cross on foot.

Tunnels, Sewers, and Subterranean Passages: Look to see if there is an ‘URBEX’ community in your area that has mapped or cataloged entrances to storm water drains and other subterranean routes.


Key Terrain: Any terrain that offers a strategic advantage e.g. dominant terrain features (ridge lines and mountains above a mobility corridor or other strategic location), bridges that are required to reach your location, or urban vital infrastructure (water treatment plants, hospitals, energy production, etc).

Canalysing Terrain: Any features (manmade or natural) that restricts lateral movement. This can be large scale (the area between two parallel waterways) or small scale (a road passing through a mountain with steep terrain on either side).

Vantage Points: Areas that provide a significant observation distance and field of view, even if they don't serve directly to the current tactical purpose.

Obstacles: Manmade mobility restrictors like fences, blocked roads, and barricades.

Micro-Terrain: Depending on the specificity of your analysis you may want to include details on security cameras, PIRs, trees, benches, etc.

Restrictive Terrain: Steep or dense terrain that would significantly reduce patrolling speed.

Water Features: Rivers, ponds, dams, and other watercourses.

Vegetation: An overlay of the vegetation density. This is necessary if you plan on using overhead foliage as concealment from drones.

Soil: An overlay of soil shear strength (used for vehicle based planning).

It is also in the terrain stage of this split that you may want to collect information on homes, buildings, and structures. Key information that may be valuable is the type of building (residential, industrial, government, etc), the building's height, the building layout (if this building is geographically or tactically important you may be able to collect floor plans via real estate listings), and building occupants (it may be practical to know the names and vital information about your neighbors, including the number of occupants that should be in the house).


Weather is not stored on the map, but is necessary for operation planning. If you are conducting this area study for the purpose of preparedness and don’t have a specific timeframe it will be a good idea to collect monthly and hourly weather averages and patterns including:

  1. Temperature,

  2. Visibility,

  3. Moon phases/illumination,

  4. Moon/Sun Rise and Set,

  5. Wind Speed and Directions,

  6. Precipitation, and

  7. Cloud Cover.

This is just a start, weather is so vital that we recommend you attempt to download and print as much historical average weather as possible. If you want to go further you may want to take note of cloud altitude and the methods to calculate it for use in countering aerial surveillance.

Analyzing Cities

ASCOPE and PMESII were both born out of the global war on terror as a method to catalog the major components of life and society within communities. These two acronyms combine to form this table:

While an analysis this in depth may not be completely necessary if you already live in and understand a city, key components may still be worthwhile. If you do not intend to complete the full table, we recommend you look closely into the Military, Information, Infrastructure, People, and Event sections.

Analyzing Military and Police Presence

Depending on your area it may be helpful to mark out and build an understanding of the police, military, and other federal agencies that are around you. Knowing these locations may or may not be within your needs so we will keep this short.

Most Police and three letter agency offices can be found relatively easily on google, however, this won't give you information on all land owned by these departments. Finding all training facilities, vehicle depots, and possessed land may be almost impossible, however, you will be surprised at how many supposedly ‘restricted’ areas have been released in Freedom of Information requests and already documented online.

Locating military bases is generally an easier task. Most bases have their own Wikipedia pages, combine this with google maps imagery to get their locations, entrances, and a general idea of their size and capabilities. If you are missing any information and don't know anyone in the military that could help, a surprising amount can be gained by talking to defense members around the base in their off hours. Non-threatening and open ended questions like: 'That's a big/small base, isn't it?’ and ‘I've seen a lot of (X vehicles) there, is that usual?’ should get you the rest of the way.

The Next Step: Threats

While threat analysis is not necessary to an area study, it is a part of the IPB process and can be a great tool for focussing our future efforts. We will be brief on this point as most people will not have an enemy to plan against. In order to facilitate our analysis we will assume two potential enemies:

  1. A mobile foot patrol of unknown size and disposition.

  2. A vehicle based element that can only move on sealed or formed roads.

Now, looking at your local area, you must predict the path that these two enemies may take to get to your location. Obviously, the vehicle borne element will take the most likely formed roads to your property, however, the foot element may act differently depending on if you are in an urban or rural location. An urban foot element may be able to cut through back alleys and other properties to reach your location from an unlikely angle, whereas a rural foot element may come from a nearby sealed road or structure and move through foothills or thicker foliage towards your location. Depending on the size of your property there may be multiple potential avenues of approach, take your time, think about it from the enemies perspective and plot these potential paths.

With these predictions completed, you have set yourself up with the ability to begin planning your defense and countermeasures. We will delve into property defense and countermeasures in a future essay.

Once the information gathering and organizing tasks of an area analysis are complete, you will have set yourself up in a very favorable position for both the offensive and defensive planning that comes next. We will elaborate on these next steps further in the future.


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